Jerry Falwell told a fellow minister on a national radio program that he isn’t really an evangelical because he isn’t voting for George W. Bush.
Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., appeared July 13 on National Public Radio to discuss campaign values with Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners organization for justice and peace and Call to Renewal, a broad coalition of faith-based organizations working against poverty.
Describing President Bush as “an evangelical Christian who lives his faith every day and loves Christ and has a born-again experience,” Falwell turned argumentative when Wallis responded, “Well Jerry, I’m an evangelical Christian too …”
“I know but … I want to ask you a question,” Falwell cut him off. “Did you vote for Al Gore last time? Did you vote for Al Gore? Vote for a pro-choice candidate? How could an evangelical Christian vote for someone who’s in favor of killing babies? Come on Jim, that’s hypocritical.”
Wallis answered that abortion and homosexuality aren’t the only moral issues at stake in the election. “For Christians who take the Bible seriously, the Bible is full of how we treat poor people,” he said. “Budgets are moral documents.”
“How about unborn children,” Falwell retorted. “Are they poor people or disenfranchised and helpless? How can you vote for a pro-choice candidate and yet call yourself an evangelical?”
“I’m pro-life Jerry,” Wallis said.
“Did you vote for George Bush last time?” Falwell asked. “Did you vote for Ronald Reagan?
Did you vote for George Bush Sr.?”
“Jim Wallis likes to go under the evangelical flag,” Falwell said, “but he’s about as evangelical as an oak tree.”
“There are Christians who because of their faith are going to vote for President Bush, like you,” Wallis said. “There are other Christians who because of their faith are going to vote against George Bush’s re-election as well. You are so selective in what you call moral issues—gay marriage, abortion, that’s the end of your short list.”
“You’re a liberal theologian who likes to call yourself an evangelical and you’ve been anti-Bush and anti-Reagan from the start,” Falwell said.
“Jerry, you’re an ideological name caller,” Wallis said.
“Well I may be that,” Falwell said, “but at least I tell you who I am. I don’t hide behind the evangelical flag and walk with John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and that crowd.”
Wallis described the exchange in his weekly e-newsletter “SojoMail.”
“It was an absolutely partisan and theocratic moment,” Wallis wrote. “There is only one way that Christians can possibly vote: That’s exactly what Falwell was saying. And that’s exactly what the Religious Right is saying. And they say the only values issues are things like gay marriage and abortion. Forget everything the Bible says about the priority of the poor, about Christian peacemaking, about respecting God’s creation, or about the image of God in every human being–including our enemies.”
“I happen to think that both abortion and gay marriage are important issues, but they are not the only issues,” Wallis continued. “Many Christians are getting tired of the tirades of the Jerry Falwells who repeatedly claim that all values issues have to do with sex and that every Christian must vote for their Republican friends.”
“Family values are important to many Christians, but so are social values. And many Christians are pro-family without being anti-gay the way Falwell is. And many of us believe that a deep commitment to the sacredness of human life requires a consistent ethic of life, which also regards the destruction of war, the death penalty, and the scandal of global poverty as deeply moral concerns, not just abortion.”
Wallis said he discussed Falwell’s comments with Baptist preacher Tony Campolo, who also is planning to vote against President Bush.
“We agreed the next time either of us is in a debate with Falwell, we will name him for what he really is,” Wallis said, “a fundamentalist who has stolen the word evangelical.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.